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Santorum 'proud' of earmarks amid Perry attack

 

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said Thursday that he's "proud" of the money he brought back to his state by way of earmarks, rebuffing new attacks by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Santorum said that if he were elected president, he would oppose earmarks -- the process by which a lawmaker directs spending to a particular project -- because Congress had placed a temporary moratorium on the practice.

But he didn't back down from new attacks this morning by Perry, who labeled the surging Santorum a "prolific earmarker," and launched a radio ad, to boot, echoing that charge.

"If you look at the Constitution, the Constitution gives the power of the purse to Congress; the Congress is the one that's supposed to spend the money," Santorum said on Fox News. "So the idea that earmarks is somehow against the Constitution or something that is illicit, that the congressman can or shouldn't do is simply, factually incorrect."

He was pressed as to whether the practice should still be encouraged, even if it weren't illegal, because of the public's perception that earmarking contributes to corruption in Washington.

"I’ve defended my earmarks in the sense that I'm proud of the money that I did set aside for things that were priorities in my state instead of having bureaucrats do that," Santorum said. "But I've recognized that the American public have sort of seen this as a pox upon the congress and that's where the American public is today and as a president, it's sort of easy for me to say I'll oppose congressional earmarks."

The practice of earmarking had long drawn the ire of reform-minded conservatives in Washington, which contributed to House and Senate lawmakers approving a moratorium -- of a limited length -- in late 2010.

But the moratorium came over the objections of some old-guard Republicans, including a series of noted conservatives, who cited a similar fear that banning earmarks would essentially cede spending authority to the president.

Perry's bet is that he can stoke anger among the conservative base toward Santorum on the issue of earmarks, in keeping with his broader theme of congressional reform (calling for a part-time Congress, reduced pay for lawmakers, and a ban on insider trading).

Whether the attack will work in the limited time frame before the Jan. 3 caucuses in Iowa, where the state's veteran GOP Sen. Charles Grassley had long been a proponent of earmarks, is another story. Santorum's seen his polling numbers rise in recent days, leading to greater scrutiny from his opponents.